NEIGHBOURS frustrated and angry at the squalid living conditions and questionable behaviour of tenants at Frankston rooming houses have found there is little they – or the Frankston Council – can do about it.
A 17-signature petition calling for a “review” of a rooming house at 17 Finlay St last week only served to remind councillors of their impotence in overseeing the planning and management of rooming houses under current state government legislation.
The signatories – from Finlay and Taketa streets – have been advised there is no legislation to guide the council in dealing with the location or concentration of shared housing, and that local government has little control over its construction or operation.
Community concerns over the management and location of rooming houses has been going on for years. The council claims to have “actively lobbied the state government through its local member, Consumer Affairs and the Minister for Health on this issue over a number of years”.
The government has not taken up the council’s suggestion to amend the planning scheme and building code to ensure “appropriate” management of rooming houses.
An officer’s report to council on Monday 28 July said: “There are numerous state government policies and Acts that, combined, provide an effective way in which to minimise local government’s ability to ensure rooming houses are operated in the best interest of tenants and the neighbourhood alike.
“The issue of rooming houses has been an ongoing area of concern to council and body of work for officers. It is considered that a change in state legislation is required.”
In line with state government legislation:
• The development at 17 Finlay Street as shared housing does not require a planning permit and issues associated with parking, landscape, rubbish collection, drainage, utility connections “and a potential decrease of liveability” could not be considered by the council [when the building was first mooted].
• Shared housing is “a reasonable land use within a residential zone”.
It is common practice for rooming houses to be designed with less than 10 habitable rooms so they only require a building permit – often issued by a private building surveyor – and not a planning permit which would attract greater scrutiny.
Two managers from council met the petitioners in mind-July to explain the regulations for shared housing.
Community development manager Fiona Johnstone has told council that officers will consider ways to best deal with rooming houses – including planning, building, health and community development – to achieve an outcome of well-designed and managed, low cost housing for the community.
She said officers had responded to the supporting information provided with the petition, and addressed the issues raised.
The officer’s report stated that rooming houses were increasingly being built in Frankston – which has a “well-known need for low-cost housing”. It said the state government’s decision to reduce its investment in low cost housing had contributed to private investor interest in the industry.
“Council’s experience is that well-managed facilities – those that have been gained through a planning permit – do not generate complaints of amenity detriment,” the report stated.
Registration of rooming houses is required under the Public Health Act, allowing councils to ensure that fire safety standards are maintained.
The petitioners claim the Finlay St rooming house:
– Is not in line with the family friendly ideals of council, attracting troubled residents instead;
– They were not given notice of planning, which would have allowed them to object before construction;
– That the commercial development is in a quiet suburban street;
– No consideration was given to parking, landscaping, rubbish collection, drainage, utility connections and a potential decrease to liveability, and that Frankston is already overrun with rooming houses “giving us the appearance of a new urban ghetto”.
The council’s compliance department works with local community action groups throughout the city, and the council is on a rooming house working group which includes the police, DHS and Consumer Affairs Victoria.